Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Photograph Infants

On November 7th we welcomed our newest edition to our family. What a better time then the present to discuss how to photograph babies. For the next few days I'll be discussing this topic and sharing lots of photos of my newborn with you. Now originally when I started this blog I committed myself to only one image a day. The idea was that it would make me focus on a particular topic and keep each post from wandering aimlessly. I've decided after a little over a week of blogging that the more images I use the better, so from now on you can expect more images when the need arises. I'll do my best to keep on topic and avoid long boring blog posts that do nothing more then stroke my ego. Now onto baby!

Alex weighed eight pounds and measured 20 inches long when he was born. The day of the birth no photos were take because as a rule my husband and I have decided that when it comes to personal family moments no cameras are allowed. We have done this because we hate experiencing birthday parties, Christmas and other important times with a camera in hand. We want to be a part of the action and not always the one documenting it. So with video camera put away and my Nikon D-300 at home, we spent Saturday evening with our new little boy and the quiet joy that new life brings.

Come Sunday morning, all bets were off. Caleb arrived with my camera and Alex had his first photo shoot. Here are a few of my favorites.
All of the images in this post were done at the hospital. I brought with me some new blue blankets from home and we wrapped him in them and covered the cushion in his bed with one also. My photo equipment had to be simple since it was a hospital and not a photo studio after all. So natural light and a pop up reflector to the rescue! My hospital room had a very large window on the north face (score!) so where to shoot was a no brainer. The best spot for the reflectorw as directly opposite the window so as much light as possible would be bounced back on the shadow side thus bring up the exposure and minimizing the contrast. The lighting you see in the photo has a 2:1 ratio. What is a lighting ratio you ask? Simply put it's the difference in the exposure across the scene (or most commonly the person's face). On the left of Alex's face you see the highlight from the window This exposure is about 1 stop brighter then the right side of his face. The ratio is just a technical short hand for explaining the difference.  There are also some advantages of photographing newborns under these conditions in addition to easy set up and beautifully diffused light..
  1. Newborns are mainly photographed asleep simply because that's what they do best. Natural light is even and steady so it won't disrupt the slumber of a tired baby. Flash on the other hand will make your baby tense up, all of their reflexes fire simultaneously and they might even start to cry: ending your photo session. There are ways to use flash (I'll talk about this tomorrow) but pointing directly at your subject or even close to them is out of the question.
  2. Controlling contrast is also an issue. Mentally our perception of babies conjures up images of  fluffy blankets, pastel colors, and all things adorable. In photography this translates to a need for soft shadows, slightly directional lighting (since texture is important to show detail) and a low level of contrast. Highlight and shadow detail are important so watch your exposures carefully!
  3. Finally depth of field is a major factor in infant portraiture. The dreamy quality that shallow depth of field evokes helps to sustain our notions about all things cuddly in relationship to babies as well as draw the viewer eye to the face of our new sleeping baby. The blankets become blurs of color (used only to suggest gender and warmth) and enhance instead of distract from the focal point: his sleepy eyes.
Now working with natural light can be completely opposite of working with flash. Instead of setting the light from the flash to match the exposure and ISO you want, you set the ISO and adjust the exposure to match the light you have. In the case of this image I used 400 ISO and chose to shoot at f3.2. I wanted limited depth of field but it was important that most of his face was in focus. The shutter speed was 1/50 of a second. I was hand holding for all of these images and the vibration reduction in my lens came in handy since I tend to shake at mid and low range shutter speeds. I also used the exposure compensation at +1/3 stop since the internal meter on most Nikon's tend to underexpose or go to the dark side as I like to say.

For this next photo instead of focusing on his face I chose the hospital bracelet. For me the slight change in focal point also changes the image from a standard portrait into an editorial piece and often it is that simple difference that can make or break an image. I would love your opinion, so please comment and come back tomorrow for a gallery of naked baby photos!

Irene Jones Photography offers studio and location portrait sessions for infants, children and families. Please visit Irene Jones Photography Online to view our portfolio and session pricing.

Part 2 of Photographing Infants tomorrow.

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